When a traffic stop happens, a dog may sniff around the vehicle, and if drugs are detected, this can give law enforcement probable cause to search it. However, the accuracy of K-9 units varies for a number of reasons. For some people in Oklahoma, a dog may cause officers to search after detecting only a trace of drugs.
One study analyzed 139 searches and found that there were no narcotics in 45% of cases. Of the searches that did find drugs, almost half of them were just small amounts of marijuana, such as the end of a joint. However, some searches did find such drugs as heroin, methamphetamine or cocaine. In 14 cases, officers discovered firearms. Another analysis of 28 teams found that one team discovered narcotics in 10 out of 11 alerts by the dog, but for another team, the rate was only four out of 14. Handler behavior can influence the dog’s results in some cases.
Law enforcement and legal experts do not all agree on the use of dogs in sniffing for drugs. Some have argued that the practice damages trust of police within communities. In 2005, the Supreme Court upheld that searching a vehicle after a dog’s alert does not violate the Fourth Amendment, but Justice David Souter dissented, arguing that no dog was infallible.
People who are facing drug charges may want to consult an attorney about their defense. There may be other circumstances in which the search and seizure was not legal. An attorney might also look into whether a person’s rights were violated in other ways. Police might seize a substance they believe to be a drug, but testing might demonstrate otherwise. An attorney might also be able to advise if the person is offered a plea bargain or could help prepare for a trial.